Finally Some Good News for Our Seas: President to Create National Ocean Policy

Oil continues to plague the Gulf of Mexico, but press reports indicate that today President Obama will adopt a new policy that provides hope for the future of our seas. Like the groundbreaking Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, this national policy will transform the way we manage our oceans and Great Lakes – helping us protect and restore our marine resources.

With all of the pain and devastation in the Gulf of Mexico right now, this policy provides welcome good news for America’s oceans. It is a great victory for everyone who treasures the wonder of the oceans, who values their marine life, and who benefits from the economic riches they provide.

First and foremost, this new policy will put an end to the chaos that has reigned over the way we manage major ocean resources. Right now, our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes are governed by more than 140 laws and 20 different agencies, each with different goals and often conflicting mandates.

A unifying national policy will provide the coordinated vision we need to successfully tackle the challenges facing our marine resources. It will help:

  • Rebuild our struggling fisheries and protect endangered species
  • Preserve and restore vulnerable habitats from industrial harm
  • Stop stormwater runoff from contaminating our beachwater
  • Stop the spread of invasive species
  • Protect against the impacts of ocean acidification and warmer water temperatures

And with the disaster in the Gulf ongoing, I can’t help but think of how things might have been different if we had a national ocean policy in place earlier.

First, our response might have been stronger, as the policy requires agencies to work together – not against each other. Over the past few months, we’ve seen the importance of this as various agencies have struggled to coordinate their efforts to contain, clean up the spill and assess the health and environmental damages. And we heard the outrage that the Minerals Management Service – now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement – was simultaneously advocating offshore oil production and tasked with making sure it was done safely. A national ocean policy unites these agencies around an overarching goal to protect our oceans. It creates an interagency National Ocean Council to ensure that our government’s actions offshore are coordinated and working together for ocean protection – not at cross-purposes. It strengthens the role of agencies in caring for ocean resources and amplifies their voice against those agencies that manage the money made off of them.

Second, today’s announcement includes a comprehensive planning process that will help us identify sensitive ecological areas and protect them from industrial activity that could be devastating. It ensures that all levels of government, business interests, fisheries managers, conservation groups and the public have input into the decision-making process for where industry is allowed to exist offshore, so that we can work together to achieve the region’s shared ocean goals. Right now, we’re left with hoping that the powerful Loop Current doesn’t bring the oil’s devastation into the coral reefs of the Florida Keys – the third longest barrier coral reef in the world. A national ocean policy might have helped us avoid this, so we’re not left playing damage control.

Our oceans are in a state of crisis and this new policy provides hope for a brighter future for America’s oceans. It will make our marine resources more resilient. As Sarah Chasis, Director of NRDC’s Ocean Initiative, said today – just like a healthy person is better able to fight off an illness, a healthy ocean is better able to withstand threats it faces – from oil spills to climate change.

We may still be trying to fix one of the worst environmental disasters our country has ever seen, but today is a day to be savored by people who care about the environment. A cause for celebration indeed.